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Archive for Tuesday, February 10, 2009

County count

Consolidating counties in the state may be worth considering, but a state legislator’s plan is too drastic to get serious attention.

February 10, 2009

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Just in case the current session of the Kansas Legislature needed a little excitement …

How about a couple of bills that reduce the size of the Legislature by about 25 percent and create a commission to look at cutting the number of Kansas counties from 105 to 13?

State Sen. Chris Steineger, D-Kansas City, has decided to try to turn the current economic crisis into what he called in a column last week, “a once in a lifetime OPPORTUNITY to reinvent and redesign state and local government for greater effectiveness and efficiency.” His idea is to increase efficiency through consolidation. The number of counties and legislators the state has lived with since 1861 no longer makes sense, he says.

And, as a state senator, Steineger was in a position to do something about that, namely introduce a couple of bills that are interesting but unlikely to get much attention from his colleagues who are so focused on the state’s dismal budget picture.

The first bill, introduced late last month, takes only five sentences to reduce the size of the Kansas Senate from 40 to 30 members and the Kansas House from 125 members to 90. If passed, the law wouldn’t take effect until Jan. 14, 2013, so the details of how the districts would be redrawn can be left until after completion of the 2010 U.S. Census and the next round of redistricting.

The other bill, introduced last week, was a little longer. It outlined the creation of a 12-member “county unification study commission.” That group would be charged with holding public hearings and drafting a plan to consolidate the state’s 105 counties into 13. His recent column suggested a reduction to 36 counties, but the bill goes even further.

The bill also lays out one plan for how counties might be consolidated. Some of the mergers would be bigger than others, of course. In this part of the state, Wyandotte and Johnson counties would become one, as would Douglas and Shawnee counties. In the western part of the state, however, up to 15 current counties would be consolidated into one unit.

The commission would have until Jan. 1, 2011, to submit a plan to the governor and Legislature; that is, if its members aren’t strung up by irate attendees at the public meetings across the state.

It’s not a bad idea for a legislator to stir the pot every once in a while, even if the proposal that’s put on the table is unlikely to go very far. Steineger’s legislation makes a valid point about the number of governmental units in the state, but the timing may be off.

The current economic climate may seem like the perfect time to consider drastic measures to increase government efficiency, but doesn’t that same economic crisis already have Kansas residents stressed out enough?

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